Meaningful Poetry Reading (Recitation of Piyutim) In Shul – Guidelines from Rav Tzvi Hirsch Koidanover – הדרך לומר פיוטים לפי ספר קב הישר

I recently came across some words of advice regarding how piyutim (synagogue poetry) should be recited, in the famous sefer קב הישר, authored by R. Tzvi Hirsch Koidanover, which dates back to over three hundred years ago.

Since we are now in one of the peak seasons of piyutim of the year, I thought it would be timely and worth sharing. We all say piyutim after all basically, some more and some less. Even those who may think that they don’t say any, actually say them in one way or another, on one occasion or another.

A relevant excerpt, with a partial free translation, from פרק פו of the sefer, follows.

How To Say Piyutim

לא יהיה קל בעיניך באמירת פיוטים של קרוב״ץ, וחיוב על כל אדם לומר הפיוטים בשמחה ובכונת הלב בשפה ברורה, בי בבל פיוט ופיוט יש סודות נפלאין, ולא יהיו הפיוטים דומין עליך כמשא כי הפיוטים נתחברו ע״פ עצת מלאכי מעלה שנגלו לר׳ אליעזר הקלירי שסידר הפיוטים ע״פ א״ב ג״ד וע״פ תשר״ק כי כן מזמריז ומשבחין למעלה, וקבלה בידי מפי זקינים ומפי חסידים מי שמקל באמירת קרוב״ץ ואומר שאינו חיוב כל כך לאומרם אינו מאריך ימיו ח״ו, כי כל היחידים שחברו הפיוטים היו גדולי הדור ואנשי מעשה אשר נעשה להם כמה ניסים בחייהן ובמיתתן,

Let it be not light in your eyes the recitation of piyutim….and it is an obligation on every person to say the poems (piyutim) with joy, concentration of the heart, and clear enunciation, because in every single piyut there are wondrous secrets. And the poems (piyutim) should not appear to you as a burden, because they were composed according to the counsel of angels from above that were revealed to R. Eliezer HaKaliri who arranged them according to Alef Beis (alphabetical order) and Tashra”k (reverse alphabetical order), because that is how they sing and praise on high…..

How Not To Say Piyutim

So that is how to say piyutim. And one can also infer from the above the wrong way to say them, which has unfortunately claimed so many victims over the years. Namely, do not say them as a burden, without joy, without concentration and understanding, in a rush, and with unclear speech.

May we be zoche to to have meaningful poetry readings in our Shuls that elevate us spiritually.

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4 Responses to “Meaningful Poetry Reading (Recitation of Piyutim) In Shul – Guidelines from Rav Tzvi Hirsch Koidanover – הדרך לומר פיוטים לפי ספר קב הישר”

  1. Tziki kedera Says:

    Once I davened by Satmar for a שמחה on Shabbas shkalim…they said the yotsrot with such a beautiful niggun… A mechaya…

    (as compared to my makom kavua where it is עמלות…)

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, the nusach/niggun is very important in imparting the proper atmosphere and experience for piyutim as well.

      A number of years ago Rav Hamburger shlit”a gave a great shiur on piyutim and yotzros in England (perhaps we will write more about it later). In the shiur he stated “And another thing which got a bit lost in our time – is the niggun of the piyyutim.
      Piyyutim have a niggun! And we have niggunim from seven kehillos! We connect them…from Berlin, from Breslau, wherever they come from. They used to sing the piyyutim. It’s a different atmosphere if you sing along. So we need two things if we will get the experience of the piyyutim. That is, 1) the understanding of the piyyut, and 2) the melody of the piyyut. To have a different approach. And the fish will wait at home another half hour….”

      So you are definitely right, and niggunim for piyutim exist in the Ashkenaz mesorah as well, not just among Chasidim.

  2. Poetic soul Says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing. This is the main reason that piyutim get left behind in most non-chasidic shuls.

    I was just in Belz for Purim in Yerushalayim, and they say the Krovetz with such excitement and a slow enough pace that many people were looking at the perush (it was a Belzer chasid that put out the “ron shir vashevach” with a perush on those piyutim that the chassidim say). Also, unlike in many nusach ashkenaz shuls I’ve been to, every single person there was participating, and not reading other seforim. This is one area we can definitely learn from them.

    As a suggestion, I have personally noticed that when I give divrei torah that refer to the piyutim and bring out their beauty, it raises the interest of even those who constantly complain about them.

    Even a quick two minute explanation before davening (or chazaras hashatz) about what we’re going to say and who wrote it, can make a difference.

  3. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, which is spot on. Blessings on your head!

    The Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Eretz Yisroel passed away recently, so I will share something I heard from רבש”ה about Vizhnitz and piyutim. It seems that one point they had stopped saying piyutim. Then in the time of the ‘Ahavas Yisroel’ (a few Rebbes back), he reinstituted their recital. What had occurred? There was some type of mageifa (plague), people were dying and it couldn’t be stopped. So he brought back piyutim, as there is a segulah that through piyutim people can be zoche to arichas yamim. And the dying stopped.

    By the way, these same ideas can and should be used to make the regular tefillah itself more meaningful as well. Why limit them to piyutim? I would say that much of what we think as ‘regular tefillah’ is also piyutim, or poetic. Tefillah and piyutim are an important part of our heritage and faith, and too important to be abandoned and just left to one group or another.

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